Monday, April 21, 2014

On The Rock My Fathers Planted - Part II - Independence and Westward Expansion

Indian Wars and Revolution

In 1755, during the French and Indian War, General Braddock launched a campaign from northern Virginia against the French Fort Duquesne in the Ohio country. George Washington, just 23, being an experienced frontiersmen and military officer, accompanied Braddock as aide-de-camp.

Braddock attempted to recruit Native American allies from those tribes not yet allied with the French, but this proved mostly unsuccessful; he had only eight Mingo Indians with him, who served as scouts. A number of Indians in the area, notably the Delaware leader Shingas, remained neutral. Caught between two powerful European empires at war, the local natives who were committed to their lands could not afford to be on the side of the loser - Braddock's success or failure would influence their decision. 

Despite its bravery and courage, Braddock's expedition failed. The French, with the aid of several other Indian tribes, withstood the British attack. For the next several years, native tribes sided with the French. But, although the British may have lost the battle, but they won the war in 1763 and the Ohio River Valley fell into British hands when the French withdrew from North America entirely. But, the Indians that still lived in that valley had already been turned against the British - now the lone European power in North America. To make matters worse, colonists began settling West of the Appalachians (although settlement was technically illegal due to the Proclamation of 1763and relations between the natives and Americans grew tense. 

At this time, "only four roads crossed the Appalachian Mountains, one from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, another from the Potomac to the Monongahela River, a third through Virginia southwestward to Knoxville, Tennessee, and the fourth through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky." (Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, 51). Around 1772, William Duncan III's son, John Pekin Duncan and his family started along the third road, heading southwest towards Tennessee. The Duncans settled in what is today the Scott and Russell counties of southwest Virginia. John Pekin's brother, Rawley, went with them and settled near Dungannon, Virginia, where he established Duncan's Fort. Rawley lived there until his death in 1786.

Two years later, in 1774, Governor Lord Dunmore of Virginia mustered the Virginia militia to finally repel the Indians from western Virginia, in response to a number of attacks on settlers by Mingo Indians. Among the volunteers listed in the 1st Militia Roster of the Clinch River area was John Pekin Duncan. That September, John Pekin was attacked by a band of natives led by "The Great Mingo" - an Iroquois warrior also known as Chief Logan. According to one account, John Pekin and two others, "went out (from Moore's Fort) to visit a pigeon trap about three hundred yards distant from the fort, and were fired upon by Logan's warriors. John Duncan was shot dead, but the other two, whose names are not given, reached the fort unhurt." 

Besides his widow, John Pekin Duncan was survived by three known children, Martin Duncan (born 1759) who chose William Cowan as his guardian at a court held for Washington County (adjacent to Russell County) on June 20, 1780, and William (born 1761) and John Pekin Jr. (born 1763), who on August 15, 1780, chose as their guardian, Melcher Oyler. By the time they received legal guardians, the three Duncan boys were well into their teens. Some might wonder why six years had elapsed before guardians were chosen, but in early days on the frontier, the distance and dangers from remote settlements to the court house delayed many legal actions.

Many others were killed or wounded in the skirmishes that occurred on the frontier. Despite the losses and Lord Dunmore's unpopularity, Dunmore "had done Virginia a big favor by organizing an offensive into the Ohio country by Virginia militia. The Virginians goaded Shawnee, Ottawa, and other tribes into what became Lord Dunmore's War, which ended with the Indians defeated. They ceded hunting rights in Kentucky to the Virginians and agreed to unhindered access to and navigation on the Ohio River. Within six months, the Transylvania Company sent out Daniel Boone [also a veteran of Braddock's campaign in 1755] to blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap to the bluegrass country of Kentucky." (Ambrose, Undaunted Courage). 

The victory over the natives allowed Virginians to solidify their claims to the western lands once Independence was declared in 1776But, the success of Dunmore's war was soon overshadowed by the coming revolution. The eyes of Virginia were on Massachusetts and Philadelphia, as the Bostonians poured tea into the Boston Harbor, and their native son - Thomas Jefferson - attended the Continental Congress.

As soon as they were old enough, John Pekin's sons, William and John Pekin Jr. joined the war against the British (I am not sure if Martin joined them or not). It is uncertain how much they were involved in the war. They probably did not have much time to see any action as the British surrendered to the Americans in 1783, when they were just out of their teenage years.

Westward Expansion

Now that the war was over, and being no longer banned by the Proclamation of 1763, Virginian settlers turned westward to the expansive Ohio and Tennessee River valleys (West Virginia at this time had not yet separated from Virginia). Kentucky was a popular place for Virginians to settle. Virginia laid claim to all the lands west to the Ohio River, and Virginia law and legal precedent still ruled this territory, even after becoming its own state in 1792. Here, there was plenty of land and opportunity and with it - freedom. 

By 1790, Tennessee had an estimated population of 36,000 when it was organized as a territory by Congress. In 1796, Tennessee was admitted as the 16th state in the Union. Tennessee is known as the "Volunteer State," a nickname earned during the War of 1812 because of the prominent role played by volunteer soldiers from Tennessee, particularly during the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815.

After their military service in the Revolution, the brothers Martin, William, and John Pekin Jr. moved West across the Appalachians some time between 1780 and 1785, and settled in Tennessee and Kentucky - consistent with Westward migration patterns of the time. 

In 1779, two settlers and explorers - John Donelson and James Robertson - with several other families journeyed from Washington County, Virginia (adjacent to Russell County) towards the Tennessee River, which they followed down until they reached the Cumberland River in central Tennessee. There, they established a settlement called Nashborough which later became Nashville. Donelson's daughter, Rachel, married Andrew Jackson - hero of the Battle of New Orleans and the 7th president of the United States.

It was likely this same trek that inspired the Duncan brothers to leave the Russell County area between 1780 and 1785 and move southwest towards Nashville, where they eventually settled in Robertson County, Tennessee (named after James Robertson). 

During the 1780s, the three Duncan brothers were married, and had several children through the 1790s and 1800s. Martin married Elizabeth Wright, and William and John Pekin Jr. married sisters - Elizabeth Spiller and Lydia Spiller respectively. The Spiller family had moved from northern Virginia in the late 1760s to the Robertson County area, where their father, Warrenton Spiller died around 1770. The Robertson, Donelson, Spiller, and Duncan families were among the early settlers of middle Tennessee and southwest Kentucky.

The Fog of History

Now we get to a point in the story that gets murky - what I like to call the "fog of history". Most of the 1800 and 1810 Census records for Tennessee have been lost. Many of Kentucky's vital records have been lost, or were simply never recorded. For example, civil authorities in Kentucky were not required to records births and deaths until 1852! Many other records before 1850 are sparse. But, we are fairly certain that Martin, William, and John Pekin Jr. moved from Virginia to Tennessee and Kentucky some time before 1795 (it is uncertain where they went to first, but they might have gone to Robertson County first (following the Donelson-Robertson trek) where they met the Spiller family, and then continued migrating north to Logan County and then eventually Illinois). 

The three families at some point lived in Logan County, Kentucky, where William's wife Elizabeth Spiller died in 1814. William died in 1817, leaving behind his three daughters, and two sons - John born 1795, and Samuel born 1797. Both sons were living near Logan at the time of their father's death in 1817, but were likely born in Robertson, County. 

Martin, and his wife Elizabeth also settled in southern Illinois where Martin died around 1827. Their descendants largely remained in Illinois and Kentucky.

John Pekin Jr. and Lydia supposedly secured a home in Tennessee near the great soldier and patriot Andrew Jackson, with and under whom their sons John Pekin III, Martin, Warren, James, Abraham, Riley, William, and Thomas all served. Some accounts claim that John Pekin Jr. was with General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, but there is no solid evidence of this. John Pekin Jr. would have been about 52 years of age at the time of the Battle. However, we at least know he served in the military because his wife, Lydia, went to court to claim her husband's war pension in 1841. John Pekin Jr. died in 1834 in Illinois, just northwest across the Ohio River from Kentucky. Lydia died in Illinois in 1843.

Many of the descendants of John and Lydia remained in southern Illinois. However, one of their sons - James, born 1794 in Robertson, Tennessee - was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while in Illinois. Pictured below, he migrated west with his family in 1848 where he died in Bountiful, Utah in 1874. James is my great-great-great-grandfather's first cousin.


In 1817, William's estate was divided among his children after his death. It is yet uncertain if his children remained in the area, owing to the "fog of history". But, I believe that their son, John, about 22 years of age, likely sold and/or took his share of his father's estate and with that small fortune, made his way about 100 miles southeast to McMinnville in Warren County, Tennessee to make a new start. There, he met Mary Ann Martin. They were married about 1819.

Mary Ann Martin was born on February 4, 1805 to William "Rock" Martin and Virginia Bradford, who moved from North Carolina in the early 1790s. Virginia Bradford was a great-granddaughter of Richard Bradford - a wealthy plantation owner in central Virginia whose family migrated south to settle western North Carolina in the 1750s. William or "Rock" was also one of the early settlers of the Warren County area, sharing a name with Rock Island, which is now a state park along the Rocky River in eastern Middle Tennessee. The "Rock" Martin house still stands in McMinnville, Tennessee.

Most of the 1820 Tennessee Census records were lost, but enough of it survived for us to know that John and Mary Ann were living in Warren, Tennessee in 1820. Their first child, William, was born January 11 of that year.

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